Answers for July 2010

Yes, I recall July 2010 – it was when I was on a cruise ship and the internet would have cost a fortune (about $1,000 to e-mail a picture). We were in a very silly location – so silly that it is not shown on most maps of the world: see … why can’t I go somewhere normal? At last, however, I have returned, sorted my stuff out, and I can now announce, albeit belatedly, as the WINNER, authors of the lengthy answers:

Ian & Sue McLeod

Question 1

How did Queen Victoria prevent her balls getting warped?


Her billiard table was heated by zinc tubes, to stop the ivory balls from warping.

Additional Answers

  • Well technically they were Albert’s balls although young Vicky laid claim to them. She kept the bed heated with zinc tubes. It must have made for an interesting game of billiards.
  • Queen Victoria had a billard table (only one?) that was heated using zinc tubes, the aim was chiefly to keep the then-used ivory balls from warping. Not sure of the relevance of the tubes being zinc.
  • She kept them warm – at about 2 or 3 degrees below normothermia to maintain maximal viable sperm production. Warped balls do not make happy sperm. Used lots of zinc ( zinc puts lead in your pencil? ) for the warm fluids passing through the seminiferous tubules under the playing surface.
  • Zinc Fallopian tubes. Er, almost, sorry for my English: zinc tubes for sure, less sure about Fallopian (you know, “her balls” is a term rather confusing for not-mother-tongue like me). So, zinc tubes inside her pool just to warm her ivory billard balls, correct?
  • By preserving them in aspic. It is a little known fact that Albert privately but vociferously objected to Victoria’s testicular torture, and chose to die young rather than suffer the indignity any longer. Little did he know (he was dead, so how could he?) that Vicky would mount* his jellied jewels on her royal mantelpiece, where they remained until she too reached her expiry date. (* “mount” is a form of presentation, Dr Bob, not an indication of the widowed queen’s athletic prowess.)
  • She left them on the elephant?
  • By refusing to serve any stimulant other than alcohol at them, of course.
  • She heated her table naturally! The balls to which you refer are surely billiard balls which from 1627 to the early 20th century were, certainly for the wealthy, made of ivory a natural substance forcibly removed from elephants. As a natural substance it is subject to variations in shape and size after it is carved into, for example, a sphere due to variations in room temperature, humidity and so on. One solution adopted (while they were waiting for someone to invent plastics) was to heat the table and so keep it, and thus the balls, in a constant condition. A New York billiard table manufacturer eventually offered a prize of $10,000 to the inventor of a substitute material and in 1868 this resulted in the invention of ‘celluloid’ the first of the modern artificial substances which unfortunately proved to be volatile and unstable – sometimes exploding during manufacture and it was also highly flammable. This is very possibly where the term ‘great balls of fire’ originated – it would certainly add a lot of much needed excitement to a game of billiards if the balls randomly exploded or burst into flames!
  • She made sure Prince Albert wore warm undies in winter that were supportive but not restrictive. It must have worked; did you see the tribe of kids they produced? Oh, and to keep Ma’am’s ivory balls warm, she put zinc piping around her billiard table.
  • Used zinc tubing for heating, of course.
  • Well, as I understand it Prince Albert (let the Saxon theme begin) was the one that looked after the balls. After a cold winters night in the billiards room with HRH Victoria, working on their royal succession plan the comment was passed that the cold felt-covered slate was a little hard on the royal posterior, and it made that metal thingy that Albert had dreadfully uncomfortable. So get it heated…But what to tell the “help” who were already sniggering about the nocturnal activities of the Royal couple? Oh, that heating is just to stop the ivory billiard balls errr umm warping, now get back to polishing the silver!

Question 2

Several thousand invading Vikings attempted to land at Maldon, England in 991 AD. What gallant gesture was made by Byrhtnoth, the commander of the defending forces?


The Vikings had landed on a small island a few metres off the coast, and Byrhtnoth allowed them to come onto the mainland so that they could form up properly for battle.

Additional Answers

  • To maintain a level playing field, and so the visiting team wouldn’t have to get their feet wet, he let them cross a flooded causeway and form up before fighting them.
  • “Let us land, noble Byrhnoth, so we can try to cut away your noble head from your noble shoulders!” cried Olaf from his ship. “Oh… well, okay, okay… get off the boats, and do not forget your huge sledgehammers…”
  • Byrhtnoth intended to give the violent visiting Vikings the finger, but then realised that that particular gesture could not be described as ‘gallant’. So he gave them the Maldon Moon instead.
  • Byrhtnoth made many heroic gestures during the Battle of Maldon commemorated in a poem written in Anglo-Saxon called, imaginatively, The Battle of Maldon. The one he is chiefly remembered for though is allowing the Viking forces to cross the land bridge (rapidly appearing with the ebbing of the tide) which a few of his men had been holding against them so letting the two opposing forces meet on the shore (a level playing field so to speak?) He is, in my view, unfairly criticised for this. He was the military leader of Aethelred’s forces and he had called up the fyrd and was facing the Vikings with a full complement of his thegns (who were to show such Germanic steadfastness later). This Viking force was a raiding party, not a group of settlers, and had already carried out surprise attacks on several other coastal towns and were, presumably, eyeing off the mint situated in the town of Maldon. Byrhtnoth was the foremost of Aethelred’s deeply divided advisors on the side of a military solution to the Viking problem as an alternative to the other solution proposed i.e. pay them off (or send them to East Timor). Byrthnoth had to try for a decisive battle. It was his duty to confront and if possible defeat the Vikings, or they would just go on to raid other towns (as indeed they did) which would not have the benefit of being defended by a proper force. He very nearly succeeded – inflicting heavy losses on the Vikings, stopping their raid at Maldon and holding off further raids for a time while the Viking force replenished itself. That the victory looks a little Pyrrhic to us is with the benefit of hindsight.
  • Flipping the bird isn’t very gallant, is it? Okay, Dr Bob, this is a guess based on skim reading the whole flippin’ battle poem coz I couldn’t find an easy preview answer in google, but was it when he let the bad dudes cross a bridge or a river or something coz it was too boggy on their side, but he gave away too much land and they chopped his arm off, amongst other things? Hang on, have just read the question properly (must learn to do that more often!). He let them off their boats and past the shoreline before he let them murder him. I did mention it was a guess didn’t I? I couldn’t find the words ‘gallant’ or ‘gesture’ in any of the poem’s parts and it was just too epic to understand any of it. No, hang on, I’ve got it! He let the Vikings win an away game!!!
  • He gave up his seat to a international dignitary…
  • He provided a level playing field.
  • It was seemingly gallant to allow the Vikings to cross the causeway so they could gather for a proper fight.
  • One should never invite an opposing army in for a Gin and Tonic and some nice cheesy biscuits before a punch-up, when you have the chance to slaughter them one at a time on a narrow bridge. Yet again a Bridge Too Far. Look at it this way, he got heaps of fame (any publicity is good publicity), and all the ladies in the village got to meet some nice new Viking guys that may have been nice enough to give them a peck on the cheek before…
  • Was this where the Vikings landed in a swamp, and didn’t they gallantly allow them to try to crawl their way out before slaughtering them?
  • yes, yes, we all know the story of the battle of maldon, he let the vikings cross the land bridge safely only to be then killed by them. Idiot (not you Dr Bob, Mr Byrhtnoth..)

Question 3

In some later analyses of the Battle of Maldon (991 AD), it has been said that the resultant massacre was due to an attribute of Byrhtnoth called overmod in Saxon. What does this translate roughly into?



Additional Answers

  • According to the third saxon spearman from the left, and every other squaddy lumbered with an idiot officer, it means “so far up himself that he needs to write his name on the soles of his boots”
  • Tolkien’s definition was “overmastering pride”.
  • “I am a total and complete dickhead”
  • “Coglioneria”. Well, this is a highly technical and specific Italian term, and I suppose it’s hard to translate in basic English (I also suggest to not publish it, if you have many technical and specific Italian readers). However, it seems to me a quite appropriate term, better than the ancient Greek “ubris theon”, ad quite better than the plain “pride” or “excess of pride”.
  • Being overly proud of being able to pronounce Ælfflæd.
  • Clever old google has detected a Danish flavour in the translation and means hubris.
  • Hubris
  • Hubris is one translation; although other terms like recklessness, cunning and stupidity are valid also – depending on your point of view. Some feel if they were going to be beaten this was the place and it wouldn’t have happened if they’d just rowed away. Missed it by that much.
  • Mick Jagger in 1966
  • Ofermod literally means ‘over heart’ it implies ‘high spirits’ or ‘overconfidence’, ‘recklessness’ perhaps or an ‘excess of courage’ (something like hubris?) It has been translated as ‘arrogance’ or ‘extravagant spirit’ and the translations reflect the translator’s attitudes to Byrthnoth and the battle – is the poem a celebration of his heroic actions, a rousing call to arms and an exemplum of how Anglo-Saxons should behave or is it an elegy on a terrible loss, a Gotterdammerung for Anglo-Saxon society in the face of relentless change? Tolkien plumped for the latter and translated it as ‘pride’ but as in the sin of pride (there’s hubris again!) This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that the only other attested examples of this word (we don’t have a lot of examples of Anglo-Saxon really) refer to Satan’s pride and its consequences!
  • Should really be swedish for idiot
  • Well who’s a Wally with head too big for his helmet then? Thinks he’s Woden’s gift to the Long House, he does.

Question 4

In those days, circa 991 AD, of whom else was overmod a noted characteristic?



Additional Answers

  • Someone else who wanted to keep his feet dry, Canute. (Cnut ? Knut ? )
  • Any WW1 British, German or French general at the western front.
  • Anyone else who happened to be married to an Ælfflæd.
  • Dr Bob, this could be any of your fave quiz topics: Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, King Zog. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Kevin Rudd. And look where it got him.
  • Exactly a millennium after 991CE came Saddam Hussein in Gulf War #1. Saddam was so outrageously overmod that he made Byrhtnoth look like an amateur in the dickhead stakes..
  • It’s long list but Olaf Tryggvason would be on it also for accepting Byrhtnoth’s kind offer of guaranteed safe conduct to a good flogging.
  • Keith Richards in 1966
  • Lucifer
  • Lucifer
  • Oh those Saxons… Now it is a bit of a stretch but I reckon calling yourself the Emperor of the World, not to mention; the servant of Jesus Christ and the servant of the apostles, when you have not made it out of Europe, and there were lots of bits of the world that weren’t on his taxation rounds might smack of a slight ego overload. Having not had the pleasure of chatting to Otto III Holy Roman Emperor, I might be maligning the gent. He did after all archive the Skin of Saint Bartholomew in a new church in Rome. Besides Alan Jones was not available as a contestant in 10th century.
  • Uh, well, according to the Italian main meaning of the term, every era has plenty of overmoded guys. What about Carlo and Arnolfo of Carolingi dinasty, imprisoned and almost killed by the archibishop Adalbertone “Asselino” of Laon? The holy man said he, former Capetingi-supporter, was now suddenly converted to Carolingi devotion, and they believed… .
  • Well, lots of people I should imagine – it was not necessarily seen as an undesirable trait in the 10th century. One example that you might mean is Olaf Tryggvason, the leader of the Viking forces who later became king of Norway. One of his honorifics is ‘Olaf the Glorious’ which sounds a bit ofermod –ish. Pope Sylvester II (Gerbert d’Aurillac) is another possible candidate. He was a great scholar before becoming pope (now there’s a precedent!) and introduced the maths and science of the Arabs to the west and was the tutor of the emperor Otto III. His connections with the mysterious east gave rise to rumours that he was a sorcerer and in league with the devil (another interesting precedent for selection as pope?) and he was reputed to have built a ‘robotic’ head that could answer questions put to it by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (the binary nature of this communication surely implies a primitive computer? Could he be an unrecognised companion of the doctor?) In AD 991 (as we historian’s liked to put it in the past, 991 CE as we say now!) before he became pope he said: ‘I profess that outside the Catholic Church no one is saved’ a doctrine that was to lead to the spreading of a lot of Christian love and Catholic values – just ask the Cathars etc etc. He might be said to exhibit a bit of ofermod (and he did choose to name himself after a cartoon cat) Another possible that occurs to me is Airlangga (born in Bali in 991 CE) heir to the kingdom of Medan (which historian’s used to call Mataram in case it is unfamiliar to you under its new nomenclature) As the great kingdom of Srivijaya collapsed he cobbled together bits of it and the old kingdom of Medan and became the first king of Kahuripan which he ruled wisely and justly, exhibiting religious tolerance to all and, when he decided to go off and become a hermit at the end of his life, he divided his kingdom between his two sons. He is often shown as deified and why not?

Question 5

How much soap and tallow was used to grease the slipway at the launch of RMS Titanic?


22 tons

Additional Answers

  • See, the Poms do have a use for soap that doesn’t involve getting their feet wet. You can get rid of 22 tons of it by shoving it under a boat. Brand Life Buoy for preference.
  • 22 tons. Better, 22 tons of “soap, tallow and oil”. Now, if you are really asking to me the actual ratios of soap, tallow and oil, I can only say that I’m far to be so overmoded (Italian meaning) like Byrhnoth.
  • 3 tons
  • A couple of whales’ worth.
  • A good greasing requires about 22tons (20t) of soap and tallow.
  • Eleventy
  • Short answer 22t but that not the real answer is it? What they should have done is built the tub just a little closer to the Irish Sea and let sea level change do all the work for them what with all the coal that the industrial revolution was burning and all that carbon going into the atmosphere. They could have used all that fat to grease the side of the boat so that it slid harmlessly off the side of any offending ice it met while out and about in the Atlantic. Just as an aside, could they not have waited till a winter frost and slide the hull down the ice???
  • Soap does not “grease” anything, Dr Bob, including slipways. Soap may well make the slipway feel greasy but it is not grease. It disperses grease. Try “…lubricated the slipway…” instead (not that I am in any way pedantic…)
  • Sufficient saponitic surfactant supplied so ship slipped successfully – satisfied?
  • The builders of the Titanic had to upgrade their Belfast site to accommodate the Olympic class liners that they were hoping to build lots of. They built two massive slipways in the space that had previously had three and built a huge gantry over the lot so they could build two at once. When the Titanic was launched she was just the hull (plus the engines etc) and already at 26 000 tons the heaviest object ever moved by humans. Twenty-two tons of tallow and soap (your original question does not ask for it to be broken down for just the amount of soap?) provided a coating about one inch deep on the slipways so it would slide down smoothly, indeed ‘slip’ down them. We wouldn’t want it to have an accident would we?
  • They should’ve saved some to grease the outside of the ship, maybe it would’ve slid over the iceberg.
  • tons and tons and tons…okay, I’m not going to write it 22 times, but that’s how many tons. Apparently tallow was involved in it too. I can’t think of anything fun or double entendre-esque for this one. I hope someone else comes up with something wittier than my contribution.

Question 6

This is a soldier of 3 Bn, 3rd Marines in Afghanistan. What is he looking for?


Signs of poor hygiene and spreadable diseases. (Quite why he needs to wear camouflage and carry a gun to do this is beyond me).

Additional Answers

  • Witty answers to Dr Bob’s devilishly tricky quiz.
  • A quiet spot for a quick piss and the chance to check for any sign of illness or disease. A serious worry for any young soldier. As a medical corpsman he knows just what to look for.
  • 2nd Class Alonzo Gonzales with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, walks through an alley looking for signs of sickness or disease during an operation to capture suspected Anti-Coalition Forces in the vicinity of Methar Lam.
  • An exit strategy!!!!
  • He seeks Queen Victoria’s unwarped balls, which were taken by the Akhoond of Swat to Afghanistan upon her death, where they were secreted in the Akhoond’s Tora Bora hideaway. The balls are an object of veneration by the Taliban so NATO wants to find them quickly in order to stop the local mullah from continually making a prick of himself.
  • His wallet
  • It is lunch time, so he is off to find a bakery that sells Talibuns. Osama shops there all the time.
  • See the little door a little in front of him to his left? He’s looking for leprechauns. It’s been a long war.
  • That looks like good old Alonzo Gonzales looking for signs of illness or disease (obviously)
  • The Messiah. (Brian: I am NOT the Messiah! Arthur: I say you are Lord, and I should know – I’ve followed a few.)
  • The TARDIS. Well, it’s more believable than weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And if that’s not the right answer then how about: King Zog’s tailor as he’d been invited over for arvo tea and needed to wear something a little more comfortable.
  • This corpsman from the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines (known since the 1980’s as ‘America’s Battalion’ Good grief!) is with Kilo Company in Afghanistan in 2005. They participated in Operation Spurs and Operation Mavericks in 2005 – described as ‘counter-insurgency and humanitarian operations’ presumably by someone who has never read George Orwell – which involved 22 firefights with the Taliban (I guess this was the humanitarian aspect of the operation?) I therefore conclude that he is probably looking for Osama Bin Laden and probably has a pack of cards in his pocket (featuring the Chaser team) so he can identify him if he finds him. They didn’t find Osama – or their secondary target, Wally, either.
  • Well all that cold weather has frozen the balls off his brass monkey, so he is looking for a house with a heated Billiard table to warm up with.
  • Who really knows, in reality? Maybe Osama bin Laden, maybe his own soul, maybe a lost cigarette. Being a corpsman and being of the Kilo company, probably he’s looking for massive wounded persons, or maybe just Ron Allen… but who knows, actually?


  • Bastille Day this month, Dr Bob, but no French questions. Pourquoi?
  • First time back in ages having resisted the new format and still almost semi undecided.
  • My result this month could rival my footy tipping.
  • The election hasn’t even started and I’m already over it, Dr Bob. I’m very skeptical about all politicians these days, even La Gillardine! What has the world come to when pollies lose their shine after only a month in the job? Anyway, here’s an interesting, if incredibly trivial, fact to get you through those long, lonely winter nights: the member for Ryan, who was elected as a Liberal and is now an Independent after being dumped by his party, named his son after his electorate. That’s gotta hurt! Still, it’s better than Sparrow Midnight James Madden.
  • We seek them here, we seek them there, Those Quizzies seek them everywhere. Is they in heaven?-Is they in hell? Those demmed, elusive Dryas octopetala.
  • Quite wet and hot, in this part of the planet, Dr.Bob. Hope it’s better, down under.
  • Really, Dr Bob! ‘A.D.’ stands for Anno domini, which means ‘in the year of our lord’. It doesn’t make any sense (as I have explained and demonstrated to hundreds of history students) to put it AFTER the number you have assigned to the year. I am surprised that you still give space to Dennis the Small’s flawed system anyway!
  • Right out of snappy witty repartee, you will just have to image that I have typed comments that Mark Twain would be proud of…
  • Was there supposed to be a theme to these questions? I didn’t get it this month.

Have a go!

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